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St. Margaret's Church

5559 Highway 245, Arisaig, Nova Scotia, Canada

Formally Recognized: 1991/06/21

Shows the aftermath of a lightning strike and fire which destroyed the steeple of the church, St. Margaret's Church, Arisaig, Antigonish County.; Photo courtesy of Antigonish Heritage Museum.
St. Margaret's Church without steeple, 1928
Front Perspective, St. Margaret's Church, Arisaig, Nova Scotia, 2009.; Heritage Division, N.S. Dept. of Tourism, Culture and Heritage, 2009.
Front Perspective
Front and Side Perspective, St. Margaret's Church, Arisaig, Nova Scotia, 2009.; Heritage Division, N.S. Dept. of Tourism, Culture and Heritage, 2009.
Front and Side Perspective

Other Name(s)

St. Margaret's Church
St. Margaret of Scotland Church

Links and documents

Construction Date(s)

1874/01/01 to 1878/12/31

Listed on the Canadian Register: 2010/01/29

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place

St. Margaret’s Church is a Neo-classical style, Roman Catholic church located along the Northumberland Shore in the rural fishing community of Arisaig, Antigonish County, Nova Scotia. Built between 1874 and 1878, the building, cemetery and surrounding property are included in the municipal designation.

Heritage Value

St. Margaret's Church is valued for being the oldest Roman Catholic parish in Nova Scotia. The original St. Margaret's Church, built in 1792, was a small log church serving the 400 Catholics in the district from Merigomish to Antigonish. By 1827, the community had grown to approximately 1,400 persons, so a larger church was built to accommodate their needs. Construction of the present St. Margaret's Church was begun in 1874, and dedication ceremonies took place on July 16, 1878. Dougald Grant served as Chair of the Building Committee and directed Master Builder, Sylvester O'Donoghue to oversee construction activity. To finance the construction costs, regular church picnics were held to assist fundraising efforts. In 1882, Lewis MacDonald of McAra's Brook collected enough money from Nova Scotians living in Boston to pay off the debt of the church.

St. Margaret's Church is valued for the association with Master Builder, Sylvester O'Donoghue. A native of Wicklow, Culross, Ireland he is credited with supervising several important construction jobs in eastern Nova Scotia. He oversaw the construction of St. Ninian's Cathedral in Antigonish; Immaculate Conception Church, Mabou; Stella Maris Church, Canso; the installation of the tower on St. Patrick's Church, Merland; the expansion of the Trappist Monastery; and construction of a section of the Inverness Railway. He married twice: first to Cassie Spuhan of Halifax and later to Sarah Roche of Antigonish. A father of seven, he built a large home located at 64 Pleasant Street, Antigonish. Sylvester O'Donoghue died of pneumonia at Antigonish March 25, 1903 and is buried in St. Ninian’s parish cemetery.

In 1928, the steeple of St. Margaret's Church was hit by lightning and a fire erupted. The quick action of John Charleston MacDonald with the assistance of several onlookers, ensured that the flaming steeple was cut off from the main structure, thus ensuring the survival of the church building. A ten-metre tower and cross was rebuilt in November of that year.

St Margaret's Church is also valued for its association with Father Ronald MacGillivray, also known as “Sagart Arisaig.” He served as pastor of St Margaret's Church from 1885 until his untimely death in 1892. He contributed a series of articles on local history and genealogy to Antigonish's weekly newspaper, "The Casket". The original manuscript has since been edited and published by R.A. MacLean in a book entitled "History of Antigonish". Father Ronald MacGillivray is valued for the contribution he made to Antigonish history.

St. Margaret's Church reflects the simplicity and elegance of Neo-classical style architecture. St. Margaret’s Church stands at one-and-a-half storeys and features a simple gable roof and symmetrical three-bay façade with projecting tower and central double door. The windows of the church include Gothic, stained glass with religious motifs and round rose windows in the tower. Two small floral-shaped windows decorate the front façade. The building features simple, but decorative trim and mouldings.

St. Margaret’s Church cemetery contains stones of early settlers in the Arisaig district. It is notable that the cemetery also contains the remains of clergy, including Reverand William MacLeod who became the first member of St. Margaret's Church parish and the Diocese of Arichat to be ordained a priest in 1824.

Source: Municipality of the County of Antigonish, Heritage Property file no. 678.

Character-Defining Elements

The character-defining elements of St. Margaret’s Church include:

- symmetrical three-bay façade with central double door;
- exterior features including simple gable roof and projecting square tower;
- tower featuring a steeple and louvres in the octagonal lantern;
- tower featuring round rose windows;
- Gothic windows with thin glazing bars;
- double lancet windows incorporated into in the tower;
- stone entrance step;
- cemetery with stones of local pioneer families and clergy.



Nova Scotia

Recognition Authority

Local Governments (NS)

Recognition Statute

Heritage Property Act

Recognition Type

Municipally Registered Property

Recognition Date


Historical Information

Significant Date(s)

1928/01/01 to 1928/01/01

Theme - Category and Type

Building Social and Community Life
Religious Institutions
Expressing Intellectual and Cultural Life
Philosophy and Spirituality
Expressing Intellectual and Cultural Life
Architecture and Design
Peopling the Land

Function - Category and Type


Religion, Ritual and Funeral
Religious Facility or Place of Worship


Religion, Ritual and Funeral
Mortuary Site, Cemetery or Enclosure

Architect / Designer

O’Donaghue, Sylvester



Additional Information

Location of Supporting Documentation

Municipality of the County of Antigonish Heritage Property File no. 678

Cross-Reference to Collection

Fed/Prov/Terr Identifier




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